Bridge the gap between PC and TV

How'd you like to eliminate your cable or satellite television bill? You can, thanks to websites like Hulu, Joost and Fancast. They make it easy to catch your favorite shows anytime.

These sites offer a decent selection of movies online, too. Of course, the latest releases are available for purchase or rent from iTunes or Amazon Video on Demand. And Netflix offers free streaming with all unlimited monthly subscriptions.

There's just one problem. We generally don't want to watch shows on our computers. We have large-screen televisions for a reason. Fortunately, you can bridge the gap between computer and TV with relative ease.

Home theater computers

Connecting a computer to your television gives you the most options. You can access videos stored on the computer. Or, access Web videos easily.

You can connect an old desktop or a laptop, or you can buy a home theater computer. The Mac Mini's small size makes it a popular choice. But starting at $600 without mouse and keyboard, it is pricey.

The $300 Asus Eee Box is more affordable. You get everything you need in a small package. It even attaches to your television's VESA mount. Just make sure to buy the Windows version.

For even more viewing options, add a TV tuner card to your computer. This lets you record TV shows to your hard drive. Expect to pay about $100 for a high-definition tuner.

You might also consider adding a server to your setup. HP's MediaSmart Server ($600) is a good choice. It provides 750 gigabytes of storage. You can stream content over your network or the Net. It also backs up your computers.

Media hard drives

Maybe you just want to watch content stored on a hard drive. Many manufacturers make media hard drives. They connect directly to a television. You'll get a remote for navigating your videos.

For example, there's LaCie's LaCinema Classic. For $170, you get 500GB of storage in a sleek black enclosure.

There are also docks for hard drives. Seagate's Free Agent Theater HD Media Player ($130) accepts Free Agent Go drives (from $80). Connect other hard drives via built-in USB ports.

HP's MediaSmart Connect ($200) accepts HP's Pocket Media Drives. USB ports let you connect other drives. It also streams movies from networked computers. You can also watch Web videos via MediaSmart's online services.

Media hubs

Media hubs will also stream media from your computer or the Web.

The Roku player ($100) streams over Wi-Fi or an Ethernet connection. It works with Netflix and Amazon. Roku is reportedly planning to expand its offerings.

The VUDU Box is similar to the Roku player. It works with movies or shows purchased or rented through VUDU. They're stored on an internal 250GB hard drive. You can also access YouTube videos and some free on-demand shows.

The D-Link PC-on-TV Media Player ($230) connects to wired or wireless networks. It lets you view your computer on your television. You use the remote as a mouse. You can view any content that you can see on your computer.

Other options

You may already have everything you need to stream video to your television.

The Microsoft Xbox 360 (from $200) streams content from Windows Media Center. Sign up for Xbox Live Gold ($50 annually) to access Netflix movies.

A better option is the Sony PlayStation 3 ($400). It also works with Windows Media Center. A built-in Web browser lets you view any online content.

The TiVo HD ($300) and HD XL ($600) work with Netflix and Amazon. Additionally, you can watch videos from Internet feeds as well as movies you've downloaded from the Internet.

Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about computers and the Internet. To get the podcast or find the station nearest you, visit www.komando.com/listen. To subscribe to Kim's free e-mail newsletters, sign up at www.komando.com/newsletters. Contact her at gnstech@gannett.com.

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